Isolated in a canyon at 9,000 ft/2,750 m, the former bustling mining center of Real de Catorce, Mexico, would now be a ghost town if it weren't for the chic cafes and restaurants that cater to weekend visitors.
Real de Catorce has been growing in popularity as a destination because of its eerie desolation, its proximity to the peyote found in the surrounding desert (which began attracting hippies in the 1970s), horseback riding, and its inclusion in the filming of the 2000 movie The Mexican.
It's also an important pilgrimage destination. Catholics go to see a much-revered wooden statue of St. Francis, and the town's church has rooms full of retablos, tin plates on which people have written thanks or drawn pictures to honor the saint. But Real transforms itself in the weeks before and after 4 October, the feast day of St. Francis, when the town hosts a colorful, exuberant two-week fiesta.
You can also follow in the footsteps of the Huichol Indians, who make an annual pilgrimage to the top of Wirikuta, a nearby sacred mountain, during Easter week. Hiking to the top from town takes about three hours. Those not wary of heights can climb on top of 1950s Jeeps for an excursion through narrow, hairpin tracks to the top of a mountain to an old hacienda. The ride is not for the faint of heart.
The feeling of remoteness is magnified by the limited access to Real de Catorce. It lies 145 mi/235 km south of Monterrey, and to get there, cars must go through the narrow, one-lane Ogarrio tunnel. Most of the time, traffic through the tunnel alternates direction with the help of a guard at either end. It takes five hours to reach Real de Catorce by car from Laredo, Texas.
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